Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Beater Review: 1978 Fiat 124 Spider

Cars for transportation are overrated.

When purchased, I knew that I'd be the last owner of this car. Over the course of 5 months of Fiat ownership, I experienced vehicular hardships of third world proportions. At times, it would have been more convenient to just not own a car and plan around that hardship, rather than calling in to work from the shoulder of the Inner Beltline to inform them that I would be late, as my rear brakes were locked up and aflame. That being said, this was also the best $300 that has ever been spent in the history of man.


When purchased, the car was completely full of pine straw, Spanish moss, and other things that hung together just well enough to form an organic floorboard that did not appear rusty until requested to support the weight of my leg. These corrosion issues were most likely due to the fact that the car was used as a beach buggy and mobile beer cooler in Hilton Head, and hence, did not need a top. A new top wasn't installed until three months after I took delivery, which happened to be the wet, cold ones in North Carolina. Eternal interior dampness is also known to cause startling shifts in radio volume, seat frames that rust completely off the sliders, and seat belts anchors that pull out when you actually need them. In the end, both front seats were completely detached from the vehicle via rust and the driver's seat was supported by a 5 gallon bucket and a wheel from an '86 Trooper, which was traded for a transmission for this car. The seats bucket could be turned in different orientations to accommodate drivers of varying sizes and seating positions should they dare to drive the car. However, in certain positions, the bucket could fall through the floor just like my textbooks.

Driving Impression

Since the control arm bushings had collapsed, the car gained a pigeon toed stance and handling as directionally stable as a child with ADHD. The one or two times I tried to drift the car, I was shocked by the amount of grip and simultaneously reminded that my seat was completely detached from the vehicle. The steering possessed a nonlinearity like nothing I had driven. Turn in 10 degrees and the car darts toward the apex, turn in harder and the car completely washes out, bouncing towards trackout.

The 32/36 Weber equipped and smog deleted Fiat 1800 Twin Cam motor was willing and had an unmistakable rasp. The 5-speed manual trans ground gears at every change and sometimes just refused to go in to gear no matter the persuasion. The ratios were very well suited to the car, with the exception of fifth gear in which you had to be blind to perceive the RPM change in the motor upon shifting.At 1800lbs and 110HP, it was legitimately fast and a complete hoot tearing around downtown Raleigh in a murdered out, side exhaust and fire chicken equipped, Italian roadster. God forbid you should have to stop for anything important.

After the rear brakes melted off, I was left with a single, semi-functioning front caliper, or more appropriately, a line-lock. Stomp the brakes, rev 'er up to 4000, and dump the clutch. Hold brakes until ladies are visibly impressed.

But as a Daily?

Despite all its problems, this car was absolutely spectacular and a blast to cruise around in as well as get to class in style. But to answer the question. No. No way in hell. Not this one. This car is now up to it's mirrors in weeds out at Al Taylor Sports Cars, where I traded it for an e30 door that I never picked up. However, one day I will own another 124 Spider in some form or another. Maybe my next one will be a little nicer. Maybe.

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